Baptism: The Old Testament

Matthew 3 is the first mention in the Bible of baptism: John came baptizing.

I like how baptism is an assumed thing. Like this wasn’t weird to anyone. John just comes baptizing and people are like, “Oh, yeah, well of course, guess we should go be baptized, eh?” He didn’t explain why this occurred. It just made sense to the people.

This is probably from an OT understanding of purity and cleansing.

When an Israelite was unclean for any number of reasons, part of the remedy was to bathe in water (Leviticus 14:8-9; 15:13; 17:15). Utensils used in tabernacle and temple service were to be dipped in water to be cleansed.

In Numbers 19:9 the ashes of the heifer “are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin.” The whole chapter of Numbers 19 is filled with “water of cleansing” talk.

Ezekiel 36:25 says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”

The people of Israel knew that water meant cleansing, and it was stated specifically several times that it was for removing sin.

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Baptism: John the Baptist

Or as he was called in the Old Days: John the Baptizer, which I think is totally awesomer.

Understanding baptism has to begin with John. Baptism isn’t mentioned until he shows up.

Matthew 3 introduces him thusly:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

The content of his preaching was repentance, this was the big message. Repentance means to turn around and head the other way. The next verse refers to the OT prophecy that one would come to make straight the way of the Lord.

John’s job entailed cleaning Israel up for the coming of their Messiah, and that was done by repenting of their sin.

People have argued over what the “Kingdom of God” is. I think the simplest way to interpret it here is to relate it to the physical coming of Jesus Christ, the King.

Repent, the Messiah, the King of the Kingdom, is coming. Where the King is, there is the Kingdom. Clean up the Land, He’s near!

The response of the people then was:

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
Matthew 3:5-6

John baptized people who responded and sought out John. Notice John didn’t pursue anyone; people had to find him.

The response of those coming for baptism was confession of sins. Confession means “to say the same thing as.” They agreed with God’s revelation of what sin was, saw it in themselves, and agreed fully they were guilty and in need of forgiveness.

John told them to repent because the Kingdom was near in the person of the King. They responded by repenting! It always blows my mind when people actually do exactly what God calls them to do! Even in the Bible this is rare!

One could make the point that baptism is entirely about being washed from sin, as baptism pictures repentance and forgiveness.

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The Physical and Spiritual Aspects of Communion and Baptism

Baptism and Communion are two physical illustrations God put in place to teach us spiritual truth. We, being physical, tend to obsess over the physical details and bash each other over the head with them and completely miss the spiritual truth being taught.

Church History shows Christians literally killing each other over whether people should be dunked in water or sprinkled, whether the water you’re dunked in should be still or moving, is the bread and cup actually the literal body and blood of Christ, and various other physical details.

While some in the church fixate on the physical details, others see a spiritual point and dismiss the physical aspect entirely.

I know people who refuse to take communion or be baptized because they don’t want to rely on a physical work. Others ignore them because they are spiritually enlightened enough to not need such physical reminders. “We think about Jesus every day without that stuff.” Congrats.

People enjoy extremes. One group fixates on the physical rule-keeping; the other group fixates on the spiritual part and throws out the physical.

God knows our frame. He knows we’re physical. But as true believers in Christ who possess the Holy Spirit and have been born again, we are spiritual creations. We are a blend of physical and spiritual.

True believers should be the one group who can grasp both physical and spiritual aspects of communion and baptism. We don’t have to throw them out, nor do we need to fixate on physical details. We can grasp the physical and the spiritual parts because we are both parts!

Confusion about Baptism and Communion

Baptism and Communion are two physical observances God gave the Church.

God knows our frame; He knows that we’re made of dust. We are physical beings typically focused on physical things.

God, who is a spirit, is trying to communicate spiritual things to us. We’re slow to comprehend these spiritual things because we’re physical.

Thus, in order for God to get spiritual truth through our physical heads, He uses physical things to teach us.

In the Old Testament He used the tabernacle, priests, sacrifices, circumcision, and the Sabbath Day, among other things, to teach spiritual truth.

Instead of getting the spiritual truth, the Israelites focused on the physical stuff.

“Look, we got circumcised, we keep the Sabbath, and look at all the animals we killed! Where’s our pat on the back, God?”

Instead of a divine pat on the back, the prophets came and blasted them, “Yes, I know you killed animals and were circumcised, but your heart was nowhere near God and you missed the whole point.”

The Israelites never got to the spiritual point behind the physical illustration. Israelites, being physical, only did the physical thing and lost sight of the spiritual point.

Christians, who are physically minded just like Israelites, do the same thing.

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God Can Do Above What We Can Ask or Think

This is another biblical phrase that Christians throw around, typically in response to some temporal win.

–Someone loses their job, but then gets hired at an even better job.
–Someone has their house foreclosed on, but they found an even betterer house.
–Someone has a loser first kid, but God gives them a second child who is far superior (OK, probably no one has said this one, but some have thought it I bet!).

“Boom, see? God does more than we could ask or think!”

As though people who lose their jobs or house don’t ask for better ones, or people with loser first kids don’t beg God imploringly for a better next kid.

Typically all the times this verse is quoted it’s in relation to someone getting exactly what they asked or thought, just slightly better, which they kind of thought might happen!

When people ask for healing and instead their pain gets worse, how is this not God doing above what we could ask or think? You didn’t think you could handle any more pain, well, guess what? You can handle pain above what you can ask or think!

Why is the application always in one happy direction?

But the main point is: why is this verse always applied to earthly, temporal things?

Read the context. I can’t stress how much this will help you understand and use verses correctly. What is the context of “God is able to do above what we could ask or think?” So glad you asked.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
–Ephesians 3:17-20

The context is referring to us understanding the bigness of God’s love and being filled with the fullness of God! This sounds close to God’s peace “which passes understanding.” God’s attributes are eternal and very large. Our minds have trouble grasping the totality of these things.

Yet God, who is able to do above what you can ask or think, can embiggen your mind to understand His love. You have no idea what His love is like. How massively huge it is. You can’t even think about what being filled with the fullness of God is like.

But He can help you understand it more and fill you with His fullness. I can’t even begin to comprehend what that means, which is why God doing above what we can ask or think is brought up here. It has to do with enabling us to grasp the hugeness of His love and being filled with His fullness.

I think this is way cool, and definitely more than you’ve asked or thought, and way better than new jobs, new houses, or better kids.

Fighting the Same Old Fight

I was listening to a podcast about wilderness survival. The survival expert said that survival is much different from how survival shows on TV portray it.

On TV, it appears as though people are running from the woods, taking risks to get out as soon as possible. You repel down waterfalls. Jump off cliffs onto tree tops. Drink your own urine. Insane stuff. Makes it seem exciting and thrilling.

In reality, survival is pretty mundane. It’s hard. Rarely exciting. You have to stay calm and measured, not flailing around repelling into bear dens to find a secret cave shortcut.

I fear many have the same idea with Christianity.

We like to think it’s exciting and dangerous. Escaping lion’s dens. Spending damp nights inside whales. Calming storms.

In reality, Christianity is rather mundane. It’s day in and day out living, choosing to love others rather than be selfish. This isn’t thrilling. It’s not exciting. It doesn’t make the news.

Hebrews 11 shows us faithful people, most of whose lives are boiled down to one or two key moments. That’s it. He even ends the chapter with an untold multitude that you never know what they did.

You pray. You think on God’s Word. You patiently and lovingly respond to others, or at least attempt to. You restrain your flesh and pursue what is spiritual and good, or try to anyway.

It’s not exciting. Therefore, it hardly seems worth doing. Exciting stuff gets attention. Doing stuff in secret where only your Father in heaven sees is no fun. So we don’t.

We sign up for the big, exciting, x-treme Christian events, thinking these mountain top experiences mark the whole path and prove we’re being Jesusy.

Fight the fight. Run the race with patience. It’s long. It’s hot. It’s hard. It’s not exciting. Put on the armor of God and stand. Not too thrilling, but it is the reality of faith. The sooner you know this the more you will relax and actually grow in Christ.

And you never have to drink your own pee. Ever. It’s not necessary in any situation. Ever.

Jesus Thinks Christians are Dumb

Do you ever feel like you are lazy, sluggish, and somewhat wimpy with your faith? Well, you’re in good company; Jesus thinks you are too!

Read it for yourself.

“for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” (Luke 16:8)

This is Jesus’ conclusion to the parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16). This is the guy who got busted by his master and was going to get fired, so he ran around lowering the debts of those who owed his master money. After being fired, these guys might help him out since he did them a solid.

Brilliant, shrewd foresight. Jesus says he did well and is an excellent example for the children of light!

“And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.” (Luke 16:9)

Jesus seems to be saying that you should use money to be nice to people so when you die (fail) and stand before the Lord these people will put in a good word for you.

Many aspects of this verse bother Christians.

–Is Jesus saying we should buy friends?
–Why do I need people to vouch for me on judgment day? I thought Jesus was all I needed?
–I thought giving stuff to people was out of love, for their benefit, not to use them for my own ends?

We go on and on with our justifications and keep our money.

It’s this kind of thinking that keeps the children of light dumber than children of the world.

Rather than be sensible, we bog down in theological debate. Our theological bunkers keep us safe from responsibility and intelligence.

Some think a lack of intelligence demonstrates faith. Isn’t all that thinking and foresight and planning just a lack of faith? Shouldn’t we trust God and blindly move forward?

Christians are adept at ignoring “you reap what you sow” because we think our great faith and prayer will shelter us. Surely God will deliver me from my terrible decision making.

Or perhaps fatalism steps in. It’s all God’s will, what’re ya gonna do? If God wanted me to do better, He would have made me do better.

At best, perhaps we’re too busy thinking about heaven, or perhaps we don’t concern ourselves with fixing today because Jesus might come back tomorrow. We follow the example of the Thessalonian believers and sit around being gossips because why work and be responsible, Jesus is coming.

Jesus is also saying that unsaved people in the world have wisdom. This bothers a lot of Christians too. There’s an arrogant superiority we carry with us. Spiritual things are discerned by spiritual people, and that’s us. We know more than all them unsaved heathen scum morons.

We pat ourselves on the back, sit back and judge the world’s sins, and never consider that maybe people in the world are doing some things better.

Paul uses athletes as an example (athletes, otherwise known as “dumb jocks” to smarmy, intellectual, professorial types). But even dumb jocks in the world are smart enough to discipline their bodies and zealously pursue their goals. Paul tells Christians that they should pursue spiritual growth like that. Surely we can be smarter than dumb jocks!

“That’s legalism, Paul!” we shout and then do nothing. Ten years go by, “How come I don’t have any fruit or proof I’ve grown?”

Jesus goes on in Luke 16 to say if we don’t become shrewd and smart like people in the world, He won’t entrust us with spiritual things.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11)

How annoying! “I thought God entrusted everyone with equal stuff. This sounds like works righteousness and merit, man” we argue convincingly with verses and maintain our dumbness.

Be smarter out there. Pay attention. Walk circumspectly. Be sober, in your right mind. Be vigilant. Discipline. Care. Wise as serpents; harmless as doves. If you can’t be smart enough to handle earthly things, why would God entrust you with far more valuable spiritual things?

We’re not called to be empty-headed fatalists. “God is in control. Nothing I can do. Whatever. Grace and stuff.”

We’re called to lay hold on eternal life and put our treasure in heaven. Get busy, yo.

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